By Tom Derwin

From Strangers On A Train and Silver Streak to The Taking Of Pelham 123, Runaway Train, and this week’s Train To Busan, travelling by locomotive has always been a popular mode of transport in the movies. But it’s never been used in the way that it is in Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer. The Korean filmmaker’s (The Host) English-language debut is set seventeen years into a human caused ice age, where the only life on earth is located on a train that perpetually circles the earth. The train is broken up into classes: the tail-end, like a slum, is heavily controlled by the privileged few who reside in the luxurious and hedonistic front carriages. Snowpiercer follows a young leader in the slums, Curtis (Chris Evans), as he leads a revolt against their oppressors.

Chris Evans in Snowpiercer
Chris Evans in Snowpiercer

Bong Joon-ho has built a solid following based on his penchant for twisting and contorting genre conventions, which he continues with this rollicking leftist fable. “I met him in London, and it was a love affair at first sight,” veteran British actor, John Hurt – who plays Curtis’ mentor, Gilliam – told FilmInk in 2013. “He talked. I listened. I didn’t know his work, but I left and I thought, ‘I’ve got to make a film with this man.’ Absolutely. I then watched The Mother and Memories Of Murder…both terrific films. True cinema. The language of cinema. Image on screen. Pure information. Wonderfully handled and wonderfully used. Very perceptive. I thought, ‘Instinct can pay off some times.’”

For Hurt, that instinct paid off, with Snowpiercer now a minor cult favourite. But with a similar ferocity to that with which his train whirls around the earth, Bong Joon-ho so ingeniously imagined and crafted his locomotive that the train is the central character in the film, occasionally to the detriment of its human dwellers. This, however, is a minor quibble. Snowpiercer is an engaging experience, and is not only the most assured and interesting film of the recent Korean new-wavers’ Hollywood output, but is also a riveting action mini-blockbuster in itself. It’s also a fine piece of pointed social commentary about environmental issues, amongst other things. “I certainly don’t think that [over] population has the air-time,” John Hurts told FilmInk. “We don’t like to talk about it. We haven’t got a humanitarian way of dealing with it. You take a story like this – you deal with it in a pessimistic and brutal way, and it might get people to think about it a bit more. We are obviously going to have to live in a world with directly more people in it than – at the minute – we’re capable of dealing with.”

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